The C-word

The last time I was in a pub with friends was 5 weeks ago. It was my birthday and the news was increasingly talking about coronavirus. It was becoming a big news but its impact was still unknown. I joked that I would put a box on the table and every time someone said or heard the C-word (Coronavirus), they’d have to put money in it. 5 weeks on and my C-word jar would be overflowing.

The main reason for this idea was that I wanted to encourage everyone to talk about something different and remember other topics existed. But recently it has become so all encompassing that the C-word is the co-author of the last few weeks of my life. I am sat here on my desk, the sun is shining and the country, in fact most of the world, is in lockdown. I haven’t left for days, shops are shut and my last term at university and in university is nonexistent. You can leave for 1 type of exercise per day, to buy essential items and if you are a key worker. My bike has become my sole means of spending time outside and every pedal brings me a breath of tranquility. Everything has changed so quickly but also slowly and awaiting news reports and revised government recommendations feels like years. The last 5 weeks have passed with little punctuation, rolling by like the Dutch countryside. The few windmills differentiating one field from another take the form of the one fun thing planned per day- a cycle, a virtual quiz, a takeaway, a Skype call or such like.

It’s surprising how quickly I’ve got used to this way of living. The thought of dashing around and having weeks pass by like a sentence with lots of punctuation is somehow not appealing. These days are slow paced and filled with the knowledge that if you haven’t completed something today, the following 10 days are empty sheets in a diary. The only recurring event that happens at the same time, on the same day, every week is the clap for carers on Thursdays at 8pm. An event so simple yet uplifting-everyone stands outside or with their open windows and claps. For a few minutes, you are reminded that the houses you stare at every day from your desk are not empty shells but are encasing other human beings who also stare out from their desks at the same view. And then everyone retreats inside, greeted by the walls they are now very familiar with, and continues with whatever they were doing. The walls we are all familiar with are different shapes and sizes, and for some are made of tarpaulin. It shouldn’t have taken the C-word to encompass our lives for these inequalities to be dealt with too.

Who knows what the next 5 weeks will be like. Lockdown is for at least another 2 weeks and then it’s Bank holiday weekend so I doubt anything will change before then. The future is very uncertain with the only certainty being that the C-word will not vanish anytime soon. When lockdown ends, I wonder if we’ll have forgotten how to order a drink at a bar, have a haircut, browse in a shop, dance in a club, be on a train. I think it will take a long time before we remember how to greet strangers in the street or awkwardly, accidentally bump into someone and hear them apologise. I wonder whether Brits will have been conditioned to queue 2 meters apart and will adopt this as a new queuing culture. I hope we remember how to sit on a bench, just to be, with no purpose or reason. I wonder whether there will continue to be a sense of solidarity and willingness to help those who need it. Whether the appreciation and respect we feel for people working jobs which the government calls ‘low-skilled’ yet ‘essential’ will stay. Somehow I hope the C-word will spark social movements and changes, surely it can’t just bring death and difficulties.

Every time I read the news the C-word is there like that blob of blue tac on that familiar wall of yours that you can’t remove. 5 weeks ago, when the C-word didn’t mean much to me, it was easy to switch off. But now it signifies thousands of lost lives, stress and fear among workers, anxiety and loneliness in homes, the uncertainty of the future and uncertainty of happenings in the past. Switching off is hard to do and no matter what you’re doing, you’ll soon be reminded of coronavirus. Just like even if you’re looking at a different patch of wall, soon enough you’ll be reminded of that blob of blue tac. The C-word is here to stay and the jar is only going to keep overflowing.

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